The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill - What does it mean for tenants?
On Monday, October 16th 2017 the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargent, tabled a new piece of housing legislation before the National Assembly. The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill comes as no surprise to those working within the housing sector, but, why is the Bill being brought forward, and what will it mean for tenants?
Why is the law changing?
On 29 September 2016 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reclassified Registered Social Landlords (housing associations) in Wales as part of the public sector. The ONS decided that the degree of control that the Welsh Government enjoyed over housing associations in Wales meant that they could not be considered as independent organisations. A similar decision was also made as to the status of housing associations in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The significance of the decision was immediately apparent to those that worked within Welsh housing. The decision would mean that the debt of housing associations in Wales would be moved onto the public balance sheet, meaning that housing associations would now be subject to public sector borrowing rules. This would limit the ability of housing associations to borrow funds in future, significantly impacting their ability to build new social housing.
In this light it is not surprising that the Welsh Government has moved to enact legislation that would lessen its control over the sector, in an attempt to reverse the ONS’s decision. In a press release published on October 16th, the Cabinet Secretary stated that:
“Unless we take action which would enable ONS to reverse the reclassification and return RSLs to the private sector, our plans to address the shortage of affordable homes in Wales will be severely compromised. The changes proposed in the Bill are essential to help secure the ongoing supply of good quality, affordable homes in Wales.”
What do these changes mean for tenants?
In September 2016, the ONS published a statement setting out why they had reached their decision to reclassify housing associations in Wales as part of the public sector. In their report the ONS set out that they had reached their decision on a number of grounds. These included:
· the powers of the Welsh Government over the management of housing associations
· the Welsh Government’s consent powers in relation to disposal of land and other assets
· the Welsh Government’s powers over constitutional changes at housing associations.
The proposed legislation tabled by the Welsh Government focuses specifically on these issues. The changes set out in the Bill are therefore very unlikely to affect the services that tenants receive on a day to day basis from their housing associations.
Whilst the changes proposed by the Bill are unlikely to affect tenants on a day to day basis, this is not to say that some of the proposed changes will not be of interest to tenants. Amongst the changes that are likely to be of greatest interest is that housing associations will no longer be required to get the consent of the Welsh Government before selling a social home, that the powers of the Welsh Government to replace the management of a housing association has been reduced, and that the control of the Welsh Government and local authorities over the constitution of housing associations has also been reduced (which will be of particular interest to tenants of stock transfer housing associations).
Whilst these powers have been reduced, tenants should be reassured that the Welsh Government will still have powers over the social housing sector in Wales. For example, whilst the powers of the Welsh Government to replace management staff at a housing association may have been reduced, the Bill does allow the Welsh Government to do so if it feels that an association is not acting in compliance with the law. Further changes to the regulatory framework in Wales should also ensure that the Welsh Government retains adequate control over the social housing sector, protecting Welsh tenants.
TPAS Cymru will continue to monitor the progress of the Bill and will update our members of the latest developments. We believe that if the legislation is enacted, and the powers of the Welsh Government over housing associations is slightly reduced, then it will become more important than ever for housing associations to involve and to listen to their tenants, in Wales.